By REID TUCKER
The double-header against Jay proved a mixed bag for Ponce de Leon, as the girls’ team meted out a one-sided beating to the visiting Royals, while the boys’ squad suffered a tough loss.
Hillary Harper led the Lady Pirates (17-1) to a resounding 71-36 victory on Friday, Jan. 7 with 23 points to her credit. Harper accomplished the feat in just the first and third quarters of the game and all but one of her eight baskets came from behind the 3-point line. Hillary’s sister Ashley was Ponce’s second-highest scorer with 17 points (including an impressive four 3-pointers) and she was followed by Jasmine Flock, who had 15 points.
“We shot the ball really well tonight,” said Ponce de Leon coach Tim Alford. “If we can continue to shoot like that it’ll help us on down the road.”
Alternatively, the best Jay’s girls could muster was 11 points from Tessa Hendricks and eight points from Danielle Skaggs. While every player on Jay’s girls’ roster scored at least one point, no one outside of Hendricks and Skaggs got above three points. The home team consistently outpointed the Royals, at one time by as much as 17 points in a quarter.
Fresh off their third-place finish at the Hilton Sandestin Basketball Blowout, the Lady Pirates were led by Hillary Harper, who was completely unstoppable from the 3-point line, scoring 15 points on five 3-pointers (three of which came back-to-back in the last minute of the first quarter). Not to be outdone by her sister, Ashley Harper scored 14 points of her own over the first two quarters, as Hillary sat out the second period. The younger Harper was assisted by Flock, who scored 5, and by Holly Parson, who scored a 2-pointer at the buzzer to put Ponce de Leon up 46-22 at the half.
With both Harpers on the court and scoring in the third quarter, Ponce de Leon blazed 32 points ahead of Jay in the third quarter with the assistance of Flock, Kaitlyn Carroll and Sha-lea Yates. With the Lady Pirates up 67-29, Ponce de Leon coach Tim Alford switched in players off the bench for the final quarter, which saw the team score on just one field goal and two shots from the charity stripe. Though Jay took advantage of the switch, increasing the team’s score 36 points overall, a running clock dispelled any hopes for a comeback attempt and Ponce took the win by a 35-point margin.
While the win against Jay furthers Ponce’s continued dominance in district play, the real news of the game was the impressive feat of Hillary Harper, who, along with 10 points in the previous night’s game against Pleasant Home, crossed the career 1,000-point-mark. Harper wasn’t available for an interview immediately following the game but Alford said his star player probably wasn’t even aware of having made the mark (and if she was aware of it she’d said nothing to him about it). He said that’s the kind of player she is: more concerned with the team’s success that her individual achievements.
“[Harper]’s a good leader for us,” Alford said. “She plays on both ends too. Not only does she score a lot but she usually gets a tough defensive assignment too. She’s a complete player. From a coach’s perspective, she’s exactly what you would like to have.”
As for Ponce de Leon’s boys, Zach Zralic led the pirates with 13 points, while Matthew Hicks had 8. Among the rest of Ponce de Leon’s squad, only three scored, and none got more than 3 points. Though Jay’s best scorer was Todd Laney, who had 17 points, the Royals nevertheless routed the Pirates 45-29.
The two teams battled through a relative slow-scoring first quarter, with neither side scoring until three minutes into the period, the margin separated 19-13 in favor of the royals. Jay pulled away in the second quarter, as Ponce’s players failed to score on most possessions and only Chad Brown managed a field goal, though that was a 3-pointer. Hicks and Zralic scored for five points and four points, respectively in the third quarter but the team managed only six points total in the final period compared to Jay’s 26 points in the second half.
The win moved Jay’s record up to 3-9 overall, while Pirates, having lost the game to the Royals, dropped another game to make their record 2-13 thus far in the ’10-’11 season.